I’m a mother, first and foremost. I live for getting up with my babies in the morning, doing the little ones’ hair, and walking them to the bus stop. All day, I think of them while they’re gone, and I race home to hear their stories of childhood streaming out of their mouths like a podcast. When they come home, we plan out our evening meal together, and we cook it, all together, even the littlest one pitches in. We watch Friends a lot while we eat, because it’s funny. If I go out with my friends, it’s the kittens that help me pick out what to wear, and line my bed like dolls while I get ready. I crank up the music and we dance around the room, just for the joy of it. Weekend mornings are spent on my bed, too, cuddling and talking over what comes next. We even clean together, because I believe that everyone should know how to clean properly no matter how many maids one can afford, a belief carried down from my own mother. All of these moments and more are built into what has become my way of parenting and living with children, as a working mother. They are my nourishment and my grace.
I’ve got three little girls. My oldest one is a teenager now, full of spice and sass, that is the quintessential “good daughter’, a perfectionist in everything she does, from singing to school to the chocolate chip cookies she makes that make everyone swoon. She’s thin, built like a willow tree and she’s got a voice like a crystal brook: she murmurs and babbles and swells as she tells the climax to any of her stories. My middle child is quieter; more retrospective and too laid back for your average 11 year old . She looks much younger than her age, with big black eyes that fill up her pale little triangular face, and a mass of crazy brown curls that she likes to leave down, framing her naughty grin like a lion’s mane. She reads and draws quietly, but is always near. Even in her solitude, she is never really alone. And then there’s my baby. My caramel colored cub. At 6, she is an inquisitive terror, questioning everything from why she has to go to bed, to why God made the sun yellow, not blue (“Wouldn’t it be better blue?” she’ll muse). She talks constantly to one of her sisters, to me, or to no one at all. She wakes up talking and she falls asleep talking. She’s the most like me.
I’m talking about them all in the present tense, but all of this life is really past. Each of the sentences should read past imperative, as in the following: “she MADE everyone swoon”, “she WOULD read and draw quietly”, and, “she WOULD wake up talking”. This is because it’s been nine months, to the day, since I had them with me.
They’ve all been taken hostage, you see, by their father in a foreign land. Before you ask why he took them (we’ll get to that later), consider the following questions and statements:
· “Oh my God! What are you doing about it, did you talk to the Embassy??”
· “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, is there anything you need?”
· “They’ll come back, don’t worry.”
· “What’s the next step, have you heard from the latest lawyer?”
· “No one can take from you what is yours.”
· “Didn’t you say your family was coming to help you?”
· “Are you planning to go there?”
· “He’ll get his, in the end.”
· “What were you thinking, to send them there??”
· “What’s the latest on the girls?”
· “How are you surviving, I don’t think I could go on.”
This is the refrain of my life now, as the months go on, as my girls remain gone and lost to me and with their father that neglects them both physically and emotionally. They live alone for the most part, with a driver to take them back and forth to school, and my oldest daughter to care for them as best as a teenager can. He lives with his new wife and child in an apartment 15 minutes from the one he keeps them. There are more details, but that’s basically the story. They’re gone. I don’t know how or when I’ll see them again, and the reality of it is that I have to live with that.
All of these questions resound through the myriad voices of my well meaning friends with every meeting. And they do mean well, of course. They know me as a Mama, capital M, and some of them even used to call me that as a nickname. They frequented my home when it was full of girlish laughter and dancing, when I had parties that centered on being a family and sharing that joy with everyone I knew and cared about. I lived for my children, and everything else was secondary. The questions are natural ones, coming from caring lips, from those that would see me as I once was, a buoyant Earth Mother, with the fruits of Love gathered around me, like a Harvest Goddess. But it’s Winter now. And just as Demeter lost her daughter Persephone to the Lord of the Underworld, so have I lost mine to their father.
The most hurtful and poignant statement of all time is “You should have never let them go.” And why did I, anyway? The easiest answer is because I had to. There was a verbal agreement binding me to let the girls spend all vacations with their father, who in turn was bound by legal and written court order to send them back to me, pay their tuition and maintenance, and let me care for them as only a mother could. That worked, for a year, my first in India and away from his abusive control after almost 20 years. It was our Golden Age, where we each in turn blossomed and shone like glittering stars in the night. But the harder answer is because I felt it was the right thing to do. I didn’t want to deny my daughters from whatever love their father was capable of giving them, however incomplete I knew it to be. I wanted them to be as whole as they possibly could be, and that meant maintaining a tenuous relationship with their father, the man that had beaten and degraded me for all of my adult life.
It worked for a time. But after 2 trips back to their father and back again home to me, the third trip proved to be a ruse. He never had any intention of sending them home. And here we are, nine months later, and with no end in sight. Lawyers cost money that I don’t have. My family in the US is busy with their own lives, and while they sympathize with me, and have plans to help me, they don’t understand what went wrong in the first place. They seem to secretly wonder if I am even right to want the girls back. Maybe, they muse, the girls are better off there; he’s remarried and has property and pull in his community. I come from a conservative family where marriage is forever. I tried for 20 years to ignore the beatings, the verbal barrages, but finally, I decided that living a lie was not living at all, and certainly no example to my children of what life was supposed to mean.
All of this, Dear Readers, is the answer to “why”. He took them for one reason and one reason only. I am a lesbian. I am shameless about this now. After more than 10 years of blackmail and pain, I think it’s about time I was who I want to be. I live openly and in harmony with a woman that answers every question I ever had about love, a woman that cherishes my babies as I do, a woman that has borne the brunt of many torrents and floods of sadness and rage during these last nine months. We were blessed to find each other in a world where love of any kind is not easy and certainly not lesbian love. But we stuck it out, worked together, and created a cozy home for us all.
To say my daughters loved her is an understatement. They adored her as she adored them. If Mama needed alone time (all Mamas do, occasionally), Mamasita was there to fill up the gaps. She taught them new games, helped them with their Hindi homework, giggled with them over Mama’s eccentricities. Mamasita made the world lighthearted and full of games. If Mama was the glue that held it all together, Mamasita was the icing on the cake, the spark that filled our world with light. Everything I mentioned of our beautiful world included Mamasita in our life. The dancing sessions, she would videotape. The cooking sessions, she would orchestrate. The bus stops, well, we took turns with that. The hair was my domain. Mediation after the little one’s thunderstorm tantrums was solely her thing. Mamasita made sure we always took the time to play.
That’s the life he stole away from them and from us. This life, that they and we so desperately crave to have again, is gone for us, at least for now and the near future. Our home is quiet now without them. We were used to being greeted with shouts and fanfare, ‘group and individual’ hugs, as my second daughter called them. Now, the desolate silence that resounds as we open the door to our home is frightening to me. But still she’s here. Still I’m here. And they are still there, but with us, deeply lodged in the crevices of our souls.
So I send this out to thank her and all the partners like her. I want her to know how much it has meant to me to have her at my side. This is my Valentine to her, my declaration of undying love, my heartfelt words of appreciation that she is mine and I am hers. She is my only constant, in a world that has turned everything I knew as true and right upside down.
This is the kind of love I dreamt of when I made that fateful leap of faith and ended the hypocrisy of my marriage to a man that privately despised me and publicly adored me. Everyone told me it wasn’t possible, but I’m here to tell you it is; that even with sacrifice I couldn’t even imagine at the time, it was worth it. It’s still worth it, even now. I believed that if I had enough courage, I could find the life I was meant to live; one with a woman that was my partner and confidante and would share my greatest triumphs and deepest sorrows.
And she has. She’s been faithful and loving no matter how bad it got for me. I can’t even remember the first few months clearly; they’re a hazy blur of nightmares and day rages, of letters to Embassies and phone calls to lawyers and family. But I remember her holding me so tightly I couldn’t get away, and would surrender to the comfort I felt in her arms. I remember her downloading every comedy she could find to distract me if only for an hour or two. I remember her feeding me, insisting that I eat something every day, if she had to put it in my mouth and make me chew. I remember her patience with my mood swings and monthly “death” anniversaries as I mourned my loss all over again. I remember her deflecting all the well-meaning questions I was too weak to answer. I remember the way she kissed my forehead as I fell asleep after crying for hours.
Through her mercies and abounding love, I found that I am, in fact, more than a mother, though that will always remain among my greatest achievements. I am more than that. I am her partner. I am a woman that has the right to live a life of happiness, and work with joy at a profession of my choice. I have the right to find fulfillment in a far away land, if that’s what it takes. I have the right to love and take comfort in the form that is most amenable to me, even if that shape is of another woman.
If you ask my daughters, they will tell you that Mama is waiting for us to come back to her in India, waiting with Mamasita and that they want to be there, where life was “real”. They understand, each in their own ways, why going there is impossible for us. They ask me to be patient, and hold on for them.
And so I will. For all of us.